I am generally the type of person who naturally seeks to find a silver lining in times of stress and change. When the pandemic disrupted our personal routines and business norms, I very much enjoyed the initial creative flurry of activity as everyone designed a new version of themselves for the world of remote work: where they were going to sit at home, what they would wear, and what background they were going to use (real or virtual).

Any bursts of optimism, however, were clouded by the ever-present anxiety about a future to be defined by what we were losing: the ability to see each other in 3D, shake hands, or embrace. What has surprised me most is how the enforced use of technology in our world of isolation has coaxed out more of our humanity at work.

1. Our whole selves on display. All day.

A decade ago, the poet David Whyte wrote of the sad state of arriving at work, parking our cars and cracking our windows as we headed inside. The real reason we left our car windows cracked, he observed, was so that we didn’t suffocate our souls left behind in our vehicles as we assumed the shadow versions of ourselves which we show at work.

In a world where videoconferencing quickly became de rigueur, we were forced to confront others as they truly are and to share a fuller view of ourselves in return. While most have now learned it’s healthy to go camera off from time to time, our insights from our collective period of voyeurism remain.

2. More empathy. More authenticity.

Not all opportunities to connect are truly embraced in our workday world. When COVID lockdown began, the standard obligation to inquire about each other’s well-being was still mostly habitual, not genuine. However, living through tough times together can nurture mutual respect in the understanding that it is ok to admit we are not always at our best. Sharing our raw emotions broke our routines and deepened our abilities to care for each other authentically.

3. More distance. More trust.

As is true in crisis, we bond against a common threat. This rallying together against the common enemy of the coronavirus has forced us to let go of some of our preferences, especially those ways that help us feel in control. With leaders being stretched with so many more critical decisions than before, they are learning they must trust in the decision-making of others. As one of our Prophet leaders observed about the process of letting go, “Perfection is the enemy of ‘good enough.’ And good enough might not include my favorite idea or personal stamp.”

4. Deeper relationships. Enriched collaboration.

The traditional centering of collaboration around functional expertise inadvertently narrows diversity of thought by pre-determining who is in the room. A broader understanding of our colleagues reveals valuable passions and skills that may not be indicated by a job title. As we learn more about each other through these new windows into each other’s lives, we let go of pointless preconceptions and improve our work together.

Final thoughts

Relieved of our former fixed routines, we have no choice but to embrace a willingness to learn and adapt. Whether learning a new role, a new aspect of our current role, accommodating radical shifts in our business models, we are invited (read forced) to learn at a new scale and speed. As I look for the silver lining in the face of disruption that I never wanted, it seems entirely possible that a growth mindset will be the legacy of this pandemic. And I relish the idea that COVID-19 might serve as a catalyst for increasingly authentic, human-centered cultures in business.

If you have any questions or would like to learn how our Organization & Culture practice helps clients to build resilient cultures that thrive on change and accelerate transformation then contact us today.

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